Memoir in Verse

A writing teacher once said everyone works through the bleed on paper stage, especially when you’re a young writer.

I have always believed writing is a powerful tool that can engaged and cure your heart, especially if you’re a person diagnosed with mental illness.

In the past, I’ve been open about my mental illness, depression and struggles in the past with weight, if it could help other people.

And, I tried at the beginning of the year to turn some of my story into a memoir. Anytime I have tried to follow up with my short memoirs: “We Never Said Hello/ Grass From the Grave” – depending on where it has been published – and it’s follow up essay, “The Write Mother,” my memoir attempts did not feel right until I put them into a narrative poetic form.

I had the opportunity to take a second look at my collection, Frozen Snowflakes, in the hope that someone may be interested in publishing it as a chapbook after seeing a new, improved, and updated version of it.  I am editing it from the ground up. It is essentially a memoir in verse about my relationship with my husband and my son’s early years.

As I began editing, I found I had too much to put into one collection, so I now have three memoirs-in-verse. I’ve turned Breastfed – a love story from me, a mother, to my daughter – into a poetic memoir. The second one is a newer collection about a family raising a son with mild autism.

That is what I wish to share with you today. Because through everything as a writer and a graduate student, who has non-stop assignments, my husband – called “Ben” in my memoirs – has been a rock.  He ends up in a lot of my writing because he has always understood the love of my life has been the results of what I write with keyboards and pens. Now we are taking a new journey together as we raise our son recently diagnosed with autism.

Rather than put all of it into one post. I share the poem in a second post today called Through Tornadoes. 

Change it Up: Ways to Change a Poetry Collection and Why

So, I’m not much of a poet. My teacher at the South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts summer program thought it was my thing, but really I had to develop better prose.

By college and into my adult years, I got better with short stories. The thing as writers just as with teaching, we have to take criticism. It’s not always comfortable. Right now with my papers, I’m happy with an A – because I have two young children, an internship, and other classes. If something flies by the wayside, I don’t really care. But, I received news of a possible consideration of my collection of poems. I am doing a lot of work to this collection called Fractured Snowflakes. I am stripping it of what I consider crap or what sounds like a younger version of myself as a writer. I need to take out any random rhyme and turn it more into the poems near the end of the collection, prose poems.

They tell the true story about my ex-husband, a little of my career as a journalist, journey through depression, an affair to remember, the breaking apart of a family, and becoming a new one.  The first poem in my collection is called Gray Jacket, and I wrote it in 2006. It originally looked like this in the first two verses:

Are you wearing

your gray jacket?

I am wearing mine.

The silk-thin,

cotton sleeves

cover me

from April’s wind.

I recall a March night

when my toes

turned red

in flip flops.

The wind kept blowing.

You,

in your gray jacket,

made your move.

Now:

Gray Jacket

Remember the night when we stood outside and looked at Canterbury Cathedral lit up with lights, and we could see the scaffolds surround the back where workers had done repairs earlier in the week before the last winter rain.

“I don’t want to come,” you had said, so I dragged you to the writers’ meeting inside that nineteen seventies,’ peach-tan building on the campus hill. “They’re writers just like you and me. They offer up the good and bad for every piece. We all stay friends and then go down for pop quiz night at the bar.”

I dragged you out of your smoke-infused state, in your gray jacket, so my friends could hear a piece of what I’d heard when I first met you in our novel class. On that March night, you wore the same orange and gray tie dye shirt, black boots with thick, black strings, and gray jacket. I had hoped you’d read a part of your novel about the Colorado inmate during his last days on death row. But, at least you went, and listened to me and the others.

“It wasn’t so bad,” you said when the meeting was through, and we looked at Canterbury Cathedral lit up with lights, wet black streets, and the old Norman walls the Nazi airplanes had used as guide points during their bombing raids. You shoved the tip of your boot in the grass. In Carolina flip flops, my toes turned red.

The wind kept blowing. You, in your gray jacket, made your move. In the darkness, your lips from under your hood met mine. I didn’t want you to stop. Ten o’clock, eleven, or midnight, who knew? We both had novels to read, classes to attend, and I was to pack for a trip to London with Mimi and Dad. You stopped and kissed my forehead. “I’m not going to tell you, ‘I love you’–” I laughed and said, “Well, no shit!” “You see, these British girls …” you drifted off. “I’m American.” “Okay, but, you’ve made my day.”

I pulled my gray jacket around me, and you called me your girlfriend. You even said I had you “whipped.” I had heard this before, I thought, just with a Southern accent.

Before you said goodbye, your gray sleeves wrapped around mine. We looked again at the cathedral at the center of town. “I’ve seen it all before, but the cathedral seems different now,” I said.

I will go through a few more edits, but never be afraid of change.

The Rain (A Metaphor for Special Education)

I am a firm believer in speaking out.

I have had to pick and choose what I say because of my profession as a teacher, but certain causes deserve attention. For me, those causes include poverty, breastfeeding, and special education. So, today I share I poem I wrote as a metaphor for the needs necessary in public school in special education.

Rain

Once I was like a child stepping out in the rain for the first time

without a parent’s guidance. No umbrella, no coat, no boots – 

Just soaked: 

A dance and a jump. I never knew where the rain drops 

would fall, for who tries to discipline rain?

 

I have walked in the rain in all sorts of ways with those 

who know those particular ways. The I becomes we, and

we tap dance with barefeet to see water splash upon 

rose bushes, to see more water turn a crack in the cement 

into a stream, to watch weeds and grass bend because 

the water pours, comes up from our feet, and swells the ground.

 

The rain falls in all ways – sideways, straight down, sprinkle, 

with thunder and lightning. We walk through the rain: splashing

through puddles like a game of hopscotch in pink rain boots 

with music notes. We make mini-runs from one shelter to the next

until we reach a door. Open a yellow umbrella and go. 

Run fast to a place away from the storm, floods, and  

a sky lit up with yellow fireworks. 

 

One time I said, “I don’t like the rain. When will it go away?”

Yes, it was yesterday – before I wandered in rain – I sang, 

”’Rain, rain go away.'” But, the rain does not wait. 

Some people wish they could pick the day like a

business schedule for the rain, but then those people 

never really walk in the rain.

 

In a new place – when I no longer had those with whom I 

danced in the rain – I met one with the award of a wise man.

In his tie and robe, he said, “You can enjoy the rain. It’s not for me.”

And, it rained. He hurried. I stayed behind in the rain because

I knew the rain fell elsewhere, too, and more wise men and women sing,

“Rain, rain go away.'”

They leave off,

“Come back again another day.”

 

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Ways we Write: The Charles Project

Dedicated to my Aunt Sharon. 

Evolve. Grow. Nurture.

Writing that lives within us and sprouts words on the page do all of those things. It fails to linger long, especially as we – as writers and people – change. I believe the same applies for any artist. Art is like my five-year-old son. It won’t sit still too long.

I write for more reasons than I can list in one post, which is why I called my blog A Word or More; not Rebecca Writes or something specific to writing. I have written about my children, short pieces from my memoir, the writing craft, family, education, and breastfeeding to name a few.

Authors enjoy writing so much that we will write about writing because its world is so vast and enchanting. You don’t want to leave Alice in Wonderland. You want stay with her.

I have written since I could put stories together or tell them. I drew pictures. My Aunt Sharon deserves a lot of credit for encouraging my stories. While she has not always liked being a source in some of my writings, she encouraged me to write at the young age of 8. She gave me the extra print out paper with sides you had to rip off. (We’re talking early nineteen nineties.) She would even make them into little books for me so I could draw my pictures and write the words I knew. She may never know just how much I appreciate her for doing this.

Recently, I found a new purpose in writing, but the stories are not mine. You see, just as my aunt provided me the paper to tell my stories, I am finding ways to give my son the same opportunity. The difference between my son and I is that he dislikes writing with a pencil or crayon. His verbal vocabulary and imagination come together to tell interesting and sometimes very good stories.

What am I doing?

He tells me his story. I type the story exactly as he says it, and print it out. He picks out the color in which he wants the words to show. We started doing this as a helpful reading comprehension method to match the pattern of a story, but it has also turned into a new way of expressing himself.

A few years ago, I began writing down moments in time about Charles because I wanted to remember everything. I didn’t want to lose a single moment because motherhood and teaching children offered something I loved more than writing. I did not complete it, but what I call the Charles Project is probably the most exciting moments in my writing life even after publishing thirteen stories.

Rebecca T. Dickinson

 

I Might Have Given Up If …

Fireworks and sparklers will burst in the 4th of July sky tomorrow night. The holiday celebrates what many Americans value, resilience.

When you read my recent posts, a word keeps popping up: advocacy. Granted, my professors and books have beaten the word into my head for educational purposes. But, it is significant in building up our lives full of purpose with resilience.

I have advocated for several issues, including breastfeeding.

I might have given up on breastfeeding my daughter were it not for these 5 reasons:

1. Better Health

… is not just a myth with breastfeeding. (I completely support moms who choose formula because it is their choice.) Since I stopped breastfeeding my son – now five – at two months, it has haunted me with every ear infection and fever spike. I might have given up breastfeeding my daughter because I wanted my body back sooner had I not remembered my son’s health.

I lived with the guilt that I had not breastfed my son long enough since we stopped. As I write my short memoir, Breastfed, I continue to work through those issues. When my daughter was born, I believed I could give her a better start than my son.

No mother wants to hear her child has stopped breathing. When the doctor told me Corrie stopped breathing for more than 15 seconds at one week and a half old, my heart dropped. We rushed to the hospital on the week of Christmas. The pediatrician diagnosed her with pneumonia and a right ear infection, which is uncommon in most breastfed babies, so I thought I had failed.

IMG_20150531_170756

The nurses encouraged me to keep nursing her. Each day, she got better.

I might have given up if I forgot the image of Corrie with tubes attached as her body fought an illness.

2. Open Eyes to Adversity

I might have given up on breastfeeding if I gave into the adversities I – and many other mothers – faced. A mother’s health is not taken lightly. I battled through two infections of Mastitis. It is an infection of the breast that causes flu-like symptoms, including chills and fever.

That wasn’t the end.

Six weeks after birth, my energy still suffered as I had experienced with my son. Only after I stopped breastfeeding him did I get better, but I was determined to keep going with Corrie. I found a wonderful doctor who discovered my Vitamin D deficiency.

I kept the fact I had depression from my doctor, and had been off antidepressants since 2007 and only gone to counseling when I thought I needed it. I dropped my pride and told my doctor. She informed me postpartum depression also causes severe exhaustion.

Since returning to counseling and a low dosage antidepressant, I have done much better.

3. Resilience in the Face of Those you Love Most

Sometimes the lack of support doesn’t come from strangers, but your family or friends. My family members know I love them with my entire heart, but they are coming to terms with or ignoring my outspokenness about breastfeeding. One member close to me pays homage to the fact you breastfed around us and it’s okay, “but you talk about it all the time.”

I have written before about one source, who had breastfed, getting angry and leaving the house.

That is all okay because you can’t force people to educate themselves about an important issue like breastfeeding. One member rolls his/ her eyes every time I mention “my obsession.”

My husband has struggled with breastfeeding from the health issues to the apparent toll it takes on husbands. He has stood up to others, but also had heated discussions with me. It is not easy, but he supports me now without arguing.

I say the results are in the health of our daughter.

I might have given up if I listened to my family members and cared what they thought. I might have given up if I didn’t hear about other women going through the same experiences.

But it drove me to open my mouth and advocate.

4. Source of Support

I might have given up if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers, those I work for, and my friends. When I returned to classes and work, I was provided a place to pump. My professors supported me when I went out to pump even telling me about their experiences with their children.

I am 100 percent one of the loudest voices for my college, Winthrop University, because every classmate and professor has supported my endeavors. Some of the younger classmates last semester asked me about breastfeeding, and it gave me an opportunity to open up.

I might have given up if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers at Baptist church. For most of my life, Methodists – my denomination – and Baptists bantered back and forth. I had looked at the Southern Baptist church as a place of intolerance, but one Sunday when we went a Memorial Day Service with my husband’s family, a woman in the nursery warmly welcomed me. She presented a chair.

“I understand,” she said. “My daughter breastfeeds, too.”

Later I met that mother, who showed me an even more private room and talked to me about how to increase milk supply. This experience warmed my heart so much I wanted to sing on top of a mountain.

When I cried in front of a lactation specialist at a breastfeeding support group as I told her about my experiences with my family she said, “Remember what you are doing. Remember all 16 pounds and 12 ounces of the baby is because of you.”

I might have given up if my good friend from Saudi Arabia didn’t help me as I breastfed in a park for the first time. I told her I hope that I didn’t offend her, and Lila told me what I was doing was natural and beautiful.

IMG_20150512_162305_679

One of the first times I breastfed my daughter in the park. 

Yes, I might have given up if my best friend of 20 years didn’t take the time to listen when I thought no one else would understand. Jessica, who breastfed her son for two years and who works as the best nurse ever, saw what I faced at home. All she had to say is “Keep going.”

I might have given up if my children’s pediatrician didn’t smile big when I said I was going for one year.

I might have given up if my sister-in-law didn’t smile and help me find a place to sit each time I feed Corrie when four years ago she was resistant to any bond.

5. You Know I’m All About that Face

I might have given up if my daughter’s night sky blue eyes and long dark eyelashes never looked up at me while she ate. There is a magic in breastfeeding a child, like there was with my son as a baby, that can’t be diminished.

Maybe deep down I feared a challenging relationship between mother and daughter as has occurred, on occasion, with my mom.

Maybe I want the best for her and her brother.

Maybe love of this nature was never meant to be explained or defended. I know the moment she was born I fell in love at first sight. I felt a deeper love for my husband like a sailor realizing the vastness of the sky when the seas are calm. I adored my son even more, and I knew everything would be okay just because I didn’t feed him longer.

 

IMG_20150524_114634_187IMG_20150527_075011_481-1

It’s Time: Take Down the Flag

Successful teachers want to engage students. The term I’ve learned is “foster their learning environment” so students can become active in society. We encourage them to become advocates of the world.

But, what about us? Teachers advocate for students, and there are some things professional teachers must decide to keep their opinions to themselves, so they don’t risk losing their job.

My master’s program and career in education have taught me to take confidence in advocating for certain issues. Those of you who have read my blog know that poverty, job loss, and breastfeeding are a few of those. But, what about that flag in my home state of South Carolina?

I grew up in a privileged household, and Dad kept pictures of generals who had fought for the Confederacy. In the artwork,  a torn Confederate flag hung. I didn’t pay much attention to it them. I mean, I knew I had some great great uncles who fought for the Confederacy, but I am also a descendant of those who fought for the Union from New Hampshire.

As a History major, I learned the flag was a battle flag meant to unite the soldiers who fought for Robert E. Lee, and it stood then as the symbol of a common heritage of those with Scots-Irish ancestors in Northern Virginia. But, the flag came to mean many different things to different people throughout the South.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in teaching is to listen to others whose opinions are different from yours. Never once did I have a feeling one way or the other about the flag, but then again I did not deal with  bigotry and hate  caused by the flag because I am white.

The flag, to many people with whom I was acquainted, symbolized division and hate. That flag didn’t stand for my personal feelings about the state, and it most definitely did not stand for my friends.

Listen. Look around. We now live in an exciting time in which there are so many different people from places all over the world and with various ancestries.

The tragic part in it all was that one killer did not see the world that way. It cost nine precious, beautiful lives. Those were lives that still had a lot to offer, and it should not have taken their lives for that flag to come down.

It’s time for that flag to come down. A flag, that not matter how one debates its history, is a recognized symbol of division and not diversity.

My grandmother once said during segregation her Sunday school teacher would sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” She said she wondered, as a child, why if Jesus loved all the children of the world that black and white children did not go to church together.

Let’s go to church together.

Let’s hold hands together.

Let’s not stop until the flag comes off the State House grounds. Capture

Courtesy of Nikkolas Smith

Talks about Breastfeeding: Two Things

Imagine walking through on a city sidewalk in late autumn.

Rain falls. You had thought the weather would feel warmer, but water hardens on the leaves at your feet. Cold covers your toes, and it spreads weakening the speed of your pace.

You reach the end of the sidewalk where it meets a street, and there are no more street lights. Do you walk into the darkness alone? You know the way home.

A sound, like the slow tap of a cane on concrete, follows you. Someone’s with you even if it is not the kind of company you wish to keep.

Deep breath. Now, I – your friend – am here with you.

Breastfeeding can be like the above scenario for some mothers. It is hard. It drives us to insanity. It saps energy while a big bag of judgement is thrown at those who make that choice.

Breastfeeding, both my experience and what other women know to be true, expands beyond one post. I have taken a few important things from the personal essay I’ve been writing called, Breast Fed, and other areas. Whether you’re a mom or know someone, here are a few items to keep in mind.

 

  • It takes the Heart

Some new mothers’ personalities change with a new baby. Breastfeeding is a choice. If a woman chooses to use formula, that is her right, and she should be supported. What happens when a mother breastfeeds affects her mind, body and heart. Emotions – whether associated with PPD or concerns about relationships, chores, work or weight loss – completely twist a woman’s heart.

I know I cried after certain break ups, but nothing broke my heart like the day in September 2010 when my son would not feed at my breast. I must have cried for two hours. He kept crying, and he would not latch.

I felt like a failure. I also felt guilty because, as a health enthusiast, I had not lost baby weight anywhere near what I had hoped. Did I use his lack of latching as an excuse to stop? That is what makes breastfeeding complicated and emotional because what a mother feels is not one dimensional. Sometimes she cannot explain it, but she feels the pain deep down.

I blamed myself for my two month old son’s disinterest in latching. He wanted a bottle. That single event has haunted me longer than any other event in my life, even though my husband and I have dealt with some traumatic events.

In the middle of everyone’s howling and suggestions was the loss of something unspoken – almost like a death – because I, as a mother, had failed to breastfeed my son. ~ from Breastfed

 

  • Support

In research I’ve done from a social worker journal, most women quit breastfeeding before six months because of a lack of support. This lack of support may come from family, friends, or work. Moms experience many emotions, and may not be able to express the right words.

Worse than the experience of a broken heart, emotions connected to breastfeeding felt like returning home to a reorganized house. The person coming home did not know where anything was located. ~ from Breast Fed

I received exceptional support from my professors and employer, so that I could pump for my baby.

But all it takes is one negative experience during a highly emotional time to make a mother question everything. At first, I was keeping my experiences to myself. I began my essay and did a little reading.

Then it happened.

Short version: My daughter was baptized. It was time to breastfed/ pump, but my daughter wasn’t hungry. A family member was going away for a long time, and I knew I might not get to talk to this person if I went into hiding. I also had to pump at that hour to keep from getting an infection I had suffered called, Mastitis. I pumped with a cover over me in my backyard. Another source close to me became upset, and this person vocalized her disapproval.  She said, “It would not be allowed at my house.” Then, a few minutes later after my husband stood up for me, she left.

Before I wrote about this or any instance, I needed time to think about what support means to a breastfeeding mom.

At heart, it means you might not understand everything about the subject, but don’t be afraid to ask questions about something that should not be considered connected with sex. It should be in support of that which gives life. It may be something as simple as holding her hand while she cries because sometimes she just needs to cry. Understand that even months after birth laundry and dishes may not be done exactly when you want them.

Most of all show love as she is providing nourishment for life.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson